Youth Coaching Strategies: Relating Chess to Everything & Basic Drills

Dec 9, 2014, 6:04 PM |

I've had success coaching my chess club (grades 1-7) by using some rather developed methods. The intention is two-fold; hold the student's attention and make the right presentation.

At least in my club's age group they are not totally familiar with lectures, and especially chess lectures. So, already having tried the lecturing and realizing its ineffectiveness with the age-group, I knew that I needed something more engaging and less robotic.

I began using some techniques from other disciplines of mine, such as Tae-Kwon-Do training and experience in sports like baseball, football, soccer and basketball. In Tae-Kwon-Do one of the very first training 'units' is called "One-Step Sparring", in which two opponents face one another. One is the attacker and the other is the defender. The attacker makes one strike, like a punch or grab. The defender either blocks or counters. That is one-step.

Two-Steps is something I use to teach openings. White is the attacker and Black is the defender. In Two-Steps the White side will have a choice of several attacks or 'recipes', such as 1. e4 2. d4, or 1. e4 2. Nc3, or 1. d4 2. c4, and so on. The black side will choose also from several recipes or defenses, like 1... e6 2... d5, 1... e5 2... d6, 1... e5 2... Nf6, et cetera.

In this way the students have usable options without straining their memories. This, of course, all depends on age, talent and experience. From my perspective I am dealing with all sub-1000 players, as a guessed figure. But I am never discouraged by that, because chess takes time to learn and respect. So in this very early stage in their chess playing, it is important to give them introductions to popular openings meanwhile maintaining the mysteries in chess. And by mysteries I mean anything you would want your students to discover on their own. This is why beginners are not taught Budapest Gambit or the Grob Opening.

Nevertheless this article is about Relating Chess to Everything and Basic Drills.

Relate Chess to sports, things that the student would already be interested in. Many of my students love basketball and football. So I constantly refer to those games to aid in my chess teaching. For example, we did a Two-Steps lesson today in which White would play 1. e4 2. d4 every time, and Black had 7 different choices on how to proceed... they voted to use a Dragon set-up with 1... c5 2... g6. Now, I know it seems ridiculous to exclude Budapest Gambit and include Dragon Sicilian, however the thematic bishop on g7 is much easier to explain and convey rather than the pawn sacrifice of the Budapest and how to get it back. I do not intend to push the Dragon Sicilian on them, it was merely one option I chose to give.

Thus they immediately questioned me: "Why would I (black) play 2... g6 when White can take the pawn?" They observed how White's Queen would reach d4 in case of ...cxd4. So, the first question really got them thinking... because after 1. e4 c5 2. d4 would black ever play 2... g6? It's a gambit-type system, with dark squares being significant there. But they don't understand that yet...

I simply explained to them that the idea of the Dragon Sicilian is to get the f8 bishop to g7 so it can control that long diagonal h8-a1. Now, if White plays very direct and forceful, as in 1. e4 2. d4, then the fianchetto may come at a cost. I explained they need the other pieces in the game. And where the pieces go in the Dragon Sicilian may not be the same in another opening, like Russian Defense or Four Knights Game.

They understood, I think, that the long diagonal is important for some reason, and that the goal of the Dragon Sicilian (at least for the fianchetto purpose) is easy to reach.

What were the other six choices?

1... e5 2... Nc6 - the most classic choice, knight defends pawn.

1... e5 2... Nf6 - a direct and strong choice, knight attacks pawn.

1... e5 2... d6 - a solid approach that protects the e5 square.

1... e6 2... d5 - a very different game. (They need not know more)

1... d6 2... g6 - trying to throw everything at e5.

1... c5 2... g6 - control the long diagonal, all moves attacking d4.


They elected to learn only the Dragon version, and I think that was a cool choice. Afterall they knew nothing of it but the name and that is why they voted for it. But they seemed eager to want to play chess games instead of chess drills like Two Steps.

So by relating chess to games like Basketball, I can convey the ideas and themes of chess easier. When the ref tosses the ball, the team that wins the ball essentially is the White side of the board in chess. It is their move and choice to start some kind of play. And the play in the Dragon (so far for them) is to attack d4 by using the c5 pawn and putting the bishop onto g7. So, white got the ball and is now starting the play towards the basket, i.e. the other side.

When the King is in check there are three ways to escape, 1. capture the checking piece, 2. block the checking piece, 3. move the king to a safe square. This is like the defending side of basketball, where the other team is about to take a shot at the basket. The defense could 1) steal the ball, 2) block the shot, or 3) make them pass.

Although the relation isn't perfect, chess has that wonderful knack of being so relatable to everything else in life. and I believe that is due to its complexity as a game and the fondness people have of boardgames. You can understand an objective in chess just as easily as you can understand what a home-run is, or a goal-kick, or what a flush is in poker, etc. And fianchettoing a bishop is just as easy to teach as it is riding a bike. You need only be vigilant and flexible so you can support the rider through the tough spots.

Another Basic Drill I have used in the past is suitable for a size of 10 students. It is called Rapid Fire and it consists of one board being used the entire time. Two players sit down and try to accomplish an objective (like getting the King to the center, or promoting a pawn) and the first to do so is the winner, and keeps their seat. The losing side gives up their seat and in this way the students have many turns and everyone competes. The goals are often very simple and both sides have very few pieces. It could be as easy as K + N vs. K + B, with the objective being to stop the enemy piece from moving forwards. See below.

For other stages in the game there require different kinds of drills, because each stage has different characteristics in the types of moves being played and which pieces are being moved. Thus good King play is necessary in all stages but is critical in the endgame. When I deal with openings I make sure that they aren't overwhelmed by the infinite options... but I also give them good variety. I tell them to get their pieces where you want them to go... and do it fast! Control the middle of the board so your pieces can actually move! When I deal with middlegames I make sure to brush them up on tactics and objectives. You should have some goals in your game so that you aren't playing randomly. Things like center squares, diagonals, open files, or hanging pieces are often goals associated in the middlegame. In the endgame things become simplified, but not at all less difficult. The ideas are fewer but what's involved in working the ideas is often hard to see.
For now my students in the club are familiar with openings, targetting the King, and the tournament format. Wow! Such beginners yet they are already in tune with the expectations of being at a chess tournament. I wanted to prepare them for what chess is really like in scholastic and professional play. Therefore I have them in three teams, a high, middle and low basically.
Varsity is the first team which consists of former players and the more experienced ones. So far the varsity hasn't lost one player.
Junior Varsity lives to challenge the Varsity, to take their boards. They are in the most turbulent group because they are constantly challenging and being challenged.
Practice Squad learns the basic ideas and rules as well as training in the openings, middlegame and endgame. They challenge losing Junior Varsity players.
In this way I am able to regulate the learning curve, and by constantly recycling the players in teams I can record their progress and stats, meanwhile making sure that everyone eventually is on the same page. I dont wish to exclude anyone since the group is large (25) and there are many beginners.
I hope this could help you in your teaching/coaching.
Any suggestions or questions are welcome.